The Pentagon Papers Essay, Research Paper
The Pentagon Papers
In 1967, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara commissioned what has come to be known as the Pentagon Papers–a massive top-secret history of the U.S. role in Indochina. The result was approximately 3,000 pages of narrative and more than 4,000 pages of appended documents–about 2.5 million words.
Forty-seven volumes cover U.S. involvement in Indochina from World War II through May 1968, the month the peace talks began in Paris. Among other things, the Pentagon Papers document the activities of sabotage and terror warfare against North Vietnam beginning in 1954 and the moves that encouraged and influenced the overthrow of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963. The papers represent the most complete secret archives of government decision-making on Indochina. Rarely has a collection of documents similar to these papers come to light in modern history.
Included in the papers is McNamara’s December 1963 memorandum to President Lyndon B. Johnson summarizing the situation in Vietnam as very disturbing. “Current trends, unless reversed in the next 23 months,” he said, “will lead to neutralization at best and more likely to a Communist-controlled state.” A coup had just been completed, and the new leader of a military revolutionary council, General Duong Van Minh, and his generals were so occupied with political affairs that military operations were suffering.
McNamara highlighted the “Country Team” as the second major weakness and wrote that it was poorly informed and not working to a common plan. He stated flatly: “Lodge [Henry Cabot Lodge, ambassador to South Vietnam, 19631967] has virtually no official contact with Harkins [General Paul Harkins, first commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV)]. Lodge sends in reports of military implications without showing them to Harkins and does not show Harkins important incoming traffic. My impression is that Lodge simply does not know how to conduct a coordinated administration….He has just operated as a loner all of his life and cannot readily change now.” McNamara continued his gloomy report with a summary of the Viet Cong infiltration, estimating that between 1,000 and 1,500 Viet Cong cadres entered South Vietnam from Laos in the first nine months of 1963.
Operations Plan 34A (OPLAN 34A), which the Pentagon documents call “an elaborate program of covert military operations against the state of North Vietnam,” was conceived by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and began on February 1, 1964. President Johnson ordered the implementation of the program based on McNamara’s recommendation, though without the support of the intelligence community, in the hope that progressively escalating pressure from the clandestine attacks might eventually force Hanoi to order the Viet Cong guerrillas in Vietnam and the Pathet Lao in Laos to halt their insurrections. McNamara directed the clandestine operations through a section of the Joint Chiefs organization called the Office of Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities.
A second major segment of the Johnson administration’s covert war against North Vietnam was air operations in Laos, where a force of propeller-driven North American T-28 fighter-bombers had been organized. The planes bore Laotian air force markings, but only some belonged to Laos. The remainder were manned by pilots of Air America, financed and controlled by the CIA under the control of Ambassador Leonard Unger.
Throughout 1964, OPLAN 34A operations ranged from flights over North Vietnam by Lockheed U-2 spy planes to kidnappings of North Vietnamese citizens for intelligence information, parachuting sabotage and psychological warfare teams into the North, commando raids from the sea to blow up rail and highway bridges, and bombardment of North Vietnamese coastal installations by PT-boats. The Pentagon delegated day-to-day direction to a studies and operations group (SOG), which enlisted CIA advisers.
In August 1964, a memorandum from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy outlined the September schedule for OPLAN 34A. The memorandum noted that the method of attack had been changed in some instances from destruction by infiltration of demolition teams to standoff bombardments by PTFs (patrol boats, fast). Other actions in September 1964 detailed in the memorandum included intelligence collection activities. Two junk capture missions were planned, during which time the captives were to be removed for 36 to 48 hours of interrogation. The junks were to be booby-trapped with anti-disturbance devices, then the junks and captives were to be released.
In conjunction with approved overflights and maritime operations, psychological operations included delivering propaganda leaflets and gift kits, and deception techniques such as simulating the resupply of phantom teams. Approximately 200 letters featuring various propaganda themes were to be sent through third-country mail channels to North Vietnam. Thirty-minute “black” radio programs purported to voice the views of dissident elements in North Vietnam, while “white” radio broadcasts of one-half to eight hours broadcast the “Voice of Freedom” daily.
Maritime operations included the demolition of Route 1 bridges; bombardment of the Cape Mui Dao observation post, the San Son radar station, Cape Mui Ron, the Tiger Island barracks, the Cape Falaise gun positions, Hon Ngu, the Hon Matt barracks and the Hon Me islands; and destruction of a section of the Hanoi-Vinh railroad.
Airborne operations between September 16 and 28 included four missions for resupply and reinforcement of in-place teams, four missions for reinforcement of in-place teams and four missions to airdrop new psychological operations/sabotage teams, depending upon the availability of drop zone and target information.
Meanwhile, consideration was being given to improving Hardnose–the code name for a Laos covert project not further identified in the document. Options under consideration included greater Thai involvement and getting Hardnose missions to operate more effectively in the corridor infiltration areas.
Was the clandestine war of 1964 outlined in the Pentagon Papers successful? Apparently not, for in February 1965, Operation Rolling Thunder–the sustained air war–was ordered to begin. According to the Pentagon Papers, the intelligence panel within the National Security Council working group, composed of representatives from the leading intelligence agencies–the CIA, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency–”did not concede very strong chances for breaking the will of Hanoi” with Operation Rolling Thunder. Once set in motion, however, the massive bombing effort seemed to stiffen rather than soften Hanoi’s will to resist, which would lead to the decision to escalate the war by sending American ground troops to Vietnam.